Mandela Washington Fellowship

Mandela Washington Fellowship


The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders

Florida International University

Florida International University

On July 28, 2014, in front of the inaugural class of Fellows, President Obama announced the renaming of the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders in honor of Nelson Mandela.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship is the flagship program of the President’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and embodies President Obama’s commitment to invest in the future of Africa.   The first class of Mandela Washington Fellows arrived in June 2014 for six weeks of intensive executive leadership training, networking, and skills building, followed by a Presidential Summit in Washington, D.C.   Through this initiative, young African leaders are gaining the skills and connections they need to accelerate their own career trajectories and contribute more robustly to strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, and enhancing peace and security in Africa.  Selected Mandela Washington Fellows should be prepared for an academically and professionally challenging program.

The Fellowship is designed to encourage and foster the ingenuity, confidence, passion, and commitment of the next generation of African leaders.  It offers young leaders an unparalleled opportunity to meet and share ideas with some of America’s dedicated leaders from community organizers to the President of the United States.  The Mandela Washington Fellowship will challenge preconceived ideas and open new horizons for those who embrace the experience.


Academic Institutes

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders brings 500 of Africa’s most promising young leaders under the age of 35 to top U.S. universities for a six-week academic and leadership institute in one of three areas: business and entrepreneurship; civic leadership; or public management.   Programs draw from the university’s or department’s unique set of expertise and resources.  Academic study is augmented by workshops, mentorship, and networking opportunities with recognized leaders in each field and interaction with “everyday” Americans.  While every experience may not be directly relevant to Fellows’ immediate personal goals, each experience will provide transferable skills that will likely prove useful during the course of their careers.  Each academic host institute will also offer a snapshot of American culture through site visits, community service, and cultural programming.  Fellows will live in  college dormitories and eat a variety of American foods during their time in the United States. The academic institutes and leadership training are rigorous and time intensive; prospective Fellows will need to minimize their work obligations in their home countries for the duration of the Fellowship.

  • Business and Entrepreneurship Institutes cater to Fellows aspiring to become leaders in the private sector or to start their own business ventures in Africa. The Institutes expose participants to business and entrepreneurial approaches in the United States, including those that address social issues.  Institutes may also help Fellows build technical and leadership capacity in areas such as business strategies, operations and supply chain management, business ethics, microfinance, marketing and branding, innovation and technology, emerging markets and risk analysis.
  • Civic Leadership Institutes are for those Fellows who are civically engaged and serving the public through nongovernmental organizations, community-based organizations, or volunteerism. The Institutes introduce Fellows to the meaning of civic leadership in the United States, while building technical and leadership capacity in areas such as advocacy, strategic planning, organizational development and the intersection of civil society with business and government.
  • Public Management Institutes are tailored to those who work, or aspire to work, in all levels of government, regional or international organizations, or other publicly minded groups and think tanks. Public Management Institutes introduce Fellows to U.S. models and best practices while building technical and leadership capacity in areas such as citizen engagement, human resource management, public financial management and the intersection of government with business and civil society.

Summit with President Obama

Immediately following the academic institutes, Mandela Washington Fellows convene in Washington, D.C. for a Summit.  During the Summit, participants interact with President Barack Obama and other prominent U.S. government, business, and civic leaders.


100 Fellows will remain in the United States for an additional six to eight weeks after their academic institute and Summit to participate in internships in the public, private and non-profit sectors with organizations throughout the United States.  The internship will be a high-level professional development opportunity that relates to the Fellows’ professional experiences.  While Fellows are carefully matched with organizations, is important to note that a Fellow may be placed based on broad rather than specific interests. The internship is not designed to mimic the experience a Fellow will have in their home country, but to provide additional skills, ideas, and networks that will prove useful in the Fellow’s career.  The Fellowship internship is designed to offer a new perspective on the Fellow’s current position and prepare them for sector-wide leadership as they progress in their careers.


Mandela Washington Fellows’ U.S.-based training is only the beginning of the United States’ long-term investment in these young leaders. The U.S. Government is working with businesses, governments, and NGOs to create ongoing professional opportunities and resources to support these young leaders when they return home.  Upon the Fellows’ return to their home countries, President Obama will call upon Fellows to share their new skills and apply the resources available to solving challenges in their communities, countries, and world.

  • Professional Development:  The U.S. Government is securing over 200 internships and professional placements for Mandela Washington Fellows in private companies, government ministries, research institutes, multilateral organizations, and non-profit or community-based organizations on the continent.  Fellows will be placed in internships in private sector companies such as Microsoft and global NGOs, such as Partners for Democratic Change.
  • Mentoring:  Fellows will be matched with mentors – industry leaders from the public, private, and non-profit sectors, including from major international companies and U.S. organizations with operations in Africa – who will guide and support Fellows as they seek to apply the lessons and skills gained through their fellowship experience, plan short and long-term career goals, and grow professionally after their return to Africa.
  • Seed Funding:  Mandela Washington Fellows will have access to dedicated funding to support their ideas, businesses, and organizations and undertake joint projects to improve their communities.  More than $5 million in small grants will be awarded in the first three years by the U.S. African Development Foundation for Mandela Washington Fellows seeking to start or enhance their businesses or social enterprises.  In addition, Washington Fellows will be able to attract funding for their ventures and projects through RocketHub’s dedicated YALI crowdfunding platform.
  • Contributing to the Community:  The State Department will invest an additional $5 million over the next three years to help Fellows establish or grow their own NGOs, undertake projects to improve their communities, or work collaboratively to build the network of young African leaders, including in underserved areas.  Fellows will serve as mentors to other young Africans in eight Connect Camps, where they will use technology to promote social good and community engagement.
  • Leveraging Ongoing U.S. Government Investments:  USAID will leverage more than $350 million in existing youth programs and development initiatives to give the Fellows access to a broad array of assistance and support.  For instance, under the Feed the Future Initiative, Fellows in selected countries will benefit from training programs and tailored internships.